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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Call to Escort Service Began a Night of Trouble at Duke - New York Times

Call to Escort Service Began a Night of Trouble at Duke - New York TimesApril 23, 2006
Call to Escort Service Began a Night of Trouble at Duke
By DUFF WILSON and JULIET MACUR

DURHAM, N.C., April 22 — The Duke University lacrosse team's troubles began with a phone call.

A team captain using an assumed name called an escort service to hire two exotic dancers for a party on March 13. Last week, two Duke players were indicted on charges of first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and the kidnapping of one woman hired that night. Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., and Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., both sophomores, are each free on $400,000 bail.

Michael B. Nifong, the Durham County district attorney, said he had identified another suspect and was gathering evidence for an indictment. The grand jury next meets May 1, one day before an election in which Mr. Nifong, a Democrat, faces two Democratic opponents.

To all but some of the people at the party, the truth of what happened that night to one of the dancers, who accused three white players of raping her in a bathroom, is a mystery.

Mr. Nifong says a sexual assault occurred, based on hospital records and the account of the accuser, who is black. A second dancer and a neighbor corroborated some of the accuser's details.

Defense lawyers say the accuser was drunk when she arrived at the party, and fabricated the assault. Taxi and bank receipts and dormitory access records prove that Mr. Seligmann could not have raped the woman, his lawyer says. A statement by the team captains said the sexual assault accusations were "totally and transparently false."

The case has polarized Durham, where tension between Duke and local residents is palpable.

"Everyone around here has strong feelings about this, one way or the other," said Renee Clark, the student government president at North Carolina Central University, where the accuser was a student. "But you can't be sure. If you weren't there in the bathroom with the players and that woman, you really don't know what happened, do you?"

Nonetheless, a skeletal timetable is evolving through court and police records, news and personal accounts, photographs and lawyers.

Using the name Adam, Dan Flannery, a senior team captain, called an escort service and hired two dancers for $400 each. The dancers were to show up at 11:30 p.m. on March 13. The address was 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, a white house across the street from Duke's east campus on a block known for parties.

A neighbor, Jason Bissey, watched the party begin as players gathered in the backyard. By 2 p.m., he said, he saw them drinking in the yard.

About 8:30 p.m., a 27-year-old single mother of two answered her phone. That woman, a Durham native, was enrolled at North Carolina Central, a historically black college on the south side of town. Its patchy grass and simple brick buildings are a world away from Duke.

The woman had held factory and store jobs but had begun working for an escort service to help pay for college. She thought she would be dancing at a bachelor party that night. When she arrived about 11:30 p.m., she was wearing a negligee and shiny white strappy high heels, and met a second dancer, Kim Roberts. They entered the house by the back door.

Team captains have told the police that 41 of the 47 Duke lacrosse players attended the party. The team captains left Mr. Seligmann off the list they gave to the police, although he had been photographed watching the dancers.

The women were paid $800 and danced briefly. Time-coded digital photographs, defense lawyers say, show the women talking and dancing in the living room between midnight and 12:04 a.m. In one photo, the accuser is prone on the floor. Men holding beers ring the living room.

Defense lawyers say the players told the dancers to leave because one was drunk. They said the women went in the bathroom for 10 to 20 minutes, then left the house. The women, however, say they were scared off. The accuser told the police that the men had become "excited and aggressive" as they danced. She and Ms. Roberts said one man held up a broomstick and threatened to sexually assault them with it.

Mr. Bissey said he saw the women get into a car after they had been in the house about 20 minutes. The players and the women exchanged heated words, he said. "Some of them were saying things like, 'I want my money back,' " he recalled the men saying. Mr. Bissey said he then saw the accuser return to the house because she had left a shoe there.

The accuser said later that both women re-entered the house after one player apologized for the behavior during their dance. She said two men then pulled her into a bathroom, locked the door and said, "Sweetheart, you can't leave."

It was then, she told the police, that Mr. Seligmann forced her to perform oral sex, and Mr. Finnerty raped and sodomized her and the third suspect strangled her, according to a transcript of a photo identification session with police on April 4. The transcript was obtained by WTVD in Raleigh, N.C. She told the police that the attack lasted for about 30 minutes.

Defense lawyers say the rape could have happened only in an improbably short period, between 12:04 and 12:30 a.m.

A photograph stamped 12:30 a.m. shows the accuser smiling on the back porch, defense lawyers said. A photo stamped minutes later shows her lying on the porch. Defense lawyers say the players helped her to the car after she passed out. A photo at 12:41 a.m. shows her in Ms. Roberts's car.

Mr. Seligmann had already left the party, his lawyer, J. Kirk Osborn, said, after phoning for a taxi at 12:14 a.m., an account confirmed by the taxi driver, Moez Mostafar. Mr. Seligmann's Duke ID card was used to enter his dormitory at 12:46 a.m., Mr. Osborn said.

Mr. Finnerty's lawyer said his client was at a restaurant several blocks away when the women were dancing. But Ms. Roberts told The Associated Press that she recalled seeing Mr. Finnerty, whom she described as the "little skinny one."

At 12:53 a.m., Ms. Roberts called 911 to report that men at 610 North Buchanan had shouted a racial epithet at her and a friend. About that time, Mr. Bissey said, he heard one partygoer yell, "Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt."

The police responded to Ms. Roberts's 911 call about 12:55 a.m. They found the house quiet, lights off. No one answered a knock at the door.

Mr. Mostafar said he went to the house again at 1:07 a.m. and saw about 20 students outside the house and picked up four. The time discrepancy between his account and that of the police has not been explained.

At 1:22 a.m., a security guard at a grocery near Duke's main campus dialed 911 because a woman, later found to be the accuser, would not get out of Ms. Roberts's car in the store's lot. One responding officer told the dispatcher: "She's not in distress. She's just passed-out drunk."

Ms. Roberts later said the accuser's demeanor changed during the party, from "talkative and friendly and smiling" to "completely incoherent." She added, "It's quite possible that something really terrible had happened to her" in the bathroom although Ms. Roberts told The Associated Press that she could not say for sure because she was not there.

At 1:58 a.m., Ryan McFadyen, a lacrosse player from Mendham, N.J., sent an e-mail message from his Duke dorm, according to a search warrant affidavit.

"To whom it may concern," the message read, "tommrow night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over to edens 2c. all are welcome.. however there will be no nudity." The message said that he would kill the strippers and cut their skin off for sexual gratification "in my duke issue spandex." The message was signed "41," his jersey number.

Duke's president canceled the team's season and accepted the coach's resignation after the authorities disclosed the e-mail message.

By 2:31 a.m., the police had taken the accuser to Duke University Hospital. At 2:50 a.m., the police classified the episode as a rape investigation.

Duff Wilson reported from Durham for this article, and Juliet Macur from New York.

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